These demands could prove to be a challenge to the PN government and could bring about yawning fissures and tensions, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
It is not surprising that a motley Malay group, especially those of nationalist stripes, are reportedly coming out of the woodwork to make their demands known to the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government that just emerged out of a recent coup.
This is because long before the coalition was cobbled together to set up the new government, the component parties of PN, particularly the Muafakat Nasional pact comprising ethnic-based Umno and Islam-centric Pas, have made an alluring promise to focus on catering to the needs of the Malay-Muslim community, allegedly neglected by the previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration.
Their demands range from having a Malay attorney-general (which has been fulfilled), placing Malays in top positions in the government, implementing hudud, giving more state preferences to Malay entrepreneurs, crafting a strict mechanism to prevent supposed insults on Islam by non-Muslims, to gradual abolition of vernacular schools.
Indeed, these demands largely echo the sentiments expressed by participants in the Malay Dignity Congress held last October.
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By and large, these demands are a cumulative effect of many years of Malay-based political parties, especially Umno and Pas, crafting a siege mentality among the Malays that gives rise to a perception, rightly or wrongly, that Malay-Muslim interests and rights are under threat from outside the community.
This situation bears significance to the political survival of the Muafakat Nasional components, which largely depend on how much they are able to paint themselves as staunch protectors of the Malay race, culture, Islam and the royalty.
Laying wholesale blame on other communities for Malay problems of poverty and socioeconomic backwardness, as certain quarters are bent to do, is not only unfair and imprudent. It would once again sidestep the importance of self-reflection within the community as a whole and of addressing factors, such as corruption, feudalism, cronyism and abuse of power among its leaders, which would help the community to move forward with much-needed self-confidence.
Those who are making these demands are also energised by the insistence once made by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin that he is Malay first and Malaysian second – although he did try to assure Malaysians in his maiden speech to the nation that he is prime minister for all.
While there are merits in some of these demands, especially poverty and economic hardship among farmers, fisherfolk, the bottom 40% of households and the lower-middle class within the Malay community, there are other demands, however, that can be considered as excessive, counterproductive and divisive.
Besides, the pangs of poverty and economic woes of these groups are also felt by the economically challenged of other ethnic communities, especially when the entire nation is facing a soft economy arising from global economic slowdown and the coronavirus pandemic.
In other words, the problems of poverty and economic hardship ought to be tackled by the government of the day. But the approach has to be inclusive given that these economically vulnerable groups within non-Malay communities are also citizens of this country who deserve assistance.
Large government assistance is expected to be rolled out to the Malays to the extent that such institutional preference may sideline other ethnic communities in the peninsula and folk in Sabah and Sarawak. This is, obviously, divisive, polarising and unjust if it happens.
The call for top government posts, particularly cabinet appointments and other high-ranking jobs in the civil service, to be monopolised by Malay-Muslims resonates with the sentiments expressed by Pas president Hadi Awang, who himself has apparently threatened to return to being a fisherman if he fails to gain a plum post in the Muhyiddin cabinet.
This overwhelmingly Malay preference is clearly a bone of contention particularly among non-Malays, who have seen over the years the Malay lopsidedness of the civil service.
Another downside to this occupational partiality is that the self-worth and dignity of a certain group of Malays, who are indeed competent, confident and highly qualified, may suffer if and when they get tarred with the same brush as others who are less qualified and less diligent and yet gain coveted positions simply because they are Malay and/or have political connections.
These demands, if excessive, are a challenge to the PN government, which could bring about yawning fissures and nagging tensions within our multi-ethnic and multicultural society.